I am writing a paper on the strides women have made since the 1700s in all areas of life. What might be considered the MOST IMPORTANT SUCCESS women have had over the last two hundred years? 

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You are correct, of course, in saying that women have made great strides toward equality with men over the past two centuries. The ability to cast a vote, enter the political arena, fight on the battlefield, and so many other things are considered by most to be improvements for women. This issue is often discussed in terms of equality, freedom, and rights, and it is true that women now have more of all three. The eNotes link below is a great resource for some of these specific things; however, the most important success, it seems to me, is not easily labeled or quantifiable.

Over the last two hundred years, the greatest advancement for women is that they have become valuable. This is not a condemnation of men or a militant defense of women--it is simply a truth.

The work women did was not generally valued until they entered the work force and competed with men. When they nursed their children through deadly epidemics, fed their family from the gardens they maintained, served their country voluntarily during wars, ensured that their husbands could work and their children could get an education...and the list goes on...they were doing what they were supposed to do, but their work was not valued.

Women's intellectual capabilities were not always valued, as evidenced by the fact that it took more than a century for them to be granted the same right to vote as men. Colleges and universities, for many years, did not value women enough to allow them to attend their institutions, perhaps wrongly assuming that women were not capable of the kind of rigorous thinking they believed only men could do. For a long time, society did not value the intellectual capabilities of women. 

Finally, women themselves have not always been valued by society, and in many other countries this is still true. Women have not always been free to choose who or when they want to marry, nor do they always have the same rights as men under the law. This has changed dramatically in the United States, of course, but there is still a horrible disparity in some parts of the world.

Like men, women have value, and society finally reflects that fact in most aspects of life. In some ways, the pendulum has swung too far the other way, favoring women over men (as in child custody laws), which is no better than valuing men over women.

Society did not always reflect the fact that women have value, that women offer something different than men but it something which is just as valuable. This is no longer the case in America, though it will take more time for women to become more visibly valuable in business  and in government. The good news for all of us, it seems to me, is that it will happen.